Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Movie Review

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Based on the first of the popular Millennium trilogy books by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, this adaptation sees Michael Nyqvist playing an idealistic Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist who's called in to investigate a family crime.
Blomkvist's just lost a libel case and has plenty of time on his hands - so he's drawn into the disappearance of a 16 year old niece of a wealthy CEO from 40 years ago.
As Blomkvist digs deeper, he's followed by a cyber hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) who believes she has what it takes to help him solve the case.
However, as the case progresses, there are more skeletons in the closet waiting to come out - and both parties have plenty to lose as their respective nooses tighten.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is a slow burning thriller - despite the beauty of the desolate white Swedish landscapes, there's very little beauty in the thick complicated plot. And in Lisbeth's case, thanks to abuse and some pretty horrific scenes, the darkness is as black as it comes.
It's that darkness which may scare some off - it's not an easy watch. But it'd be wrong to write off the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - it's a challenging and complex film which requires a depth of intelligence from its viewers to keep up.
Both Nyqvist and Rapace are good in their morally complex roles - you are never really 100% sure who's to be trusted and who you should be cheering for - in fact Lisbeth's character may end up polarizing some even if she is an anti-heroine in the style of the Sopranos - but it's these flaws and foibles which make The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo compelling to watch.
The ultimate denouement (which finally comes after a mammoth 150 minutes) leads to a clutch of unanswered questions. It's these which may tempt you back to rewatch the film to see if there's anything you've missed - and, to say the least, the door appears to be well and truly open for the second and third books to be made into films.

Nyqvist and Rapace make odd bedfellows and an uneasily odd partnership - however, if both are on board for the sequels, I'll be back to see how this trilogy pans out.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The Lovely Bones: Movie Review

The Lovely Bones: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Rose McIver, Michael Imperioli
Director: Peter Jackson
So let the Lovely Bones debate begin.
It's had mixed reviews prior to its Boxing Day release - and to be honest, this take on Alice Sebold's much loved novel will continue to divide many. (More on that shortly)
Irish actress Saoirse Ronan plays American teenager Susie Salmon, a rural Pennsylvanian girl whose life is brutally cut short one day by a predatory neighbour, George Harvey (a wonderfully malevolent Stanley Tucci).
Stuck in the Inbetween world, Susie watches as her family falls apart as the hunt for her body and killer continues to no avail. Will she receive justice and will her family live happily ever after?
The Lovely Bones is by turns, heart in your mouth moments of horror and tears of unadulterated joy. As Peter Jackson explained at the New Zealand premiere this take on the book is a deeply personal one - and I'm guessing that's where some of the mixed reviews have come from.
Personally I loved this film - there are some incredible visuals and flights of fancy which are just liquid on the eyes. Clearly the effects employed in the realisation of the InBetween are just awe inducing and lead to sensory overload. Specifically the first scenes when you see Susie enter that ephemeral other world, the colours are so bright, the images so clear that it's just unlike anything you've ever seen.
However, it's back on earth that there is also much to enjoy - and to be honest, a little to nitpick at.
Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz are good in admirable parts but it's their story of a family falling apart in the film which feels a little rushed - perhaps somewhat inevitably some of the earthbound action suffers from being book ended by the fantastical scenes of Susie's world. Consequently you maybe don't feel as much as you could for their heartbreak - it's nothing against their performances whatsoever; just merely their place in the film.
That said there really does need to be accolades showered on Saoirse Ronan the piercing bright blue eyed ingénue who plays Susie - she brings so much to the role; the exuberance of youth, the heaviness of despair and the sadness will just at times crush you. She's incredible in this. As is Rose McIver as her feisty sister Lindsay - a brilliant performance from an actress to watch out for.
Much the same needs to be said about Stanley Tucci's predator killer George Harvey. This is one of the most chilling character performances I've seen in a long time - menacing, creepy and just terrifying, this understated turn will leave you squirming uncomfortably in your seat. It's to Peter Jackson's credit that this role's so underplayed, it actually makes it worse for those watching because he gets away with the murder.
And that's the other thing about The Lovely Bones - the murder. The build up to this is just terrifying and is made even worse because you know what's coming. As the tension's ratcheted up, what you imagine happening is worse in your mind rather than what actually happens (in this case) off screen. Plus the scene right after is as heartbreaking as anything else you'll see this year.

Granted if you're a huge fan of Alice Sebold's book, you may find yourself a little disappointed with the adaptation - but to be honest, everyone takes a personal approach to this film, Peter Jackson included. The Lovely Bones is stunning in places - and will leave you horrified in others; go along and enjoy the spectacle that Peter Jackson's created on a smaller more intimate scale than any of his other epics.

Sherlock Holmes: Movie Review

Sherlock Holmes: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan
Director: Guy Ritchie
Ah, the quintessential hero could really only be played by the quintessential comeback kid.
So it is with this new take on Sherlock Holmes which sees Robert Downey Jr taking on the mantle of the detective.
Upon capturing evil Lord Blackwood (played with the usual flair by Mark Strong), Holmes (Downey Jr) is taunted by his promises that it's not over.
Things get even more surreal when Blackwood apparently rises from the dead and begins to terrorise London.
And despite this being Holmes and Watson's last case together (Watson's off to be married), the pair soon find themselves pulled back into the English criminal underworld as Blackwood's true machinations begin to unfurl.
As if that wasn't bad enough for Holmes, his one true love, the untrustworthy Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) is back on the scene - and it appears she's got plenty of secrets to keep Holmes intrigued.
Sherlock Holmes is a good reintroduction into the characters - but I have to admit, I felt much of the muddled plot was there simply to serve as exposition ready for the sequel (once you've seen it you'll understand why - and there's no spoilers here).
That said, there's much to admire about this latest rendition of Holmes - Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law have an excellent partnership as Holmes and Watson respectively; the pair are like brothers and Holmes can't resist pulling Watson back in the more he tries to get out of the crimesolving game.
Downey Jr makes a great Holmes - and director Ritchie plays his Holmes as a bored genius; Sherlock's feckless and restless when he doesn't have a case to solve - and he's never happier than when he has a riddle to deal with. Once again, Downey Jr proves the screen presence - although it's mainly thanks to his foil of a human Jude Law that the partnership works so well. The pair's bickering and squabbling clearly hides a deep love - and Holmes is jealous that he's about to lose his long time companion to a woman. It's these kind of character tics which really make Holmes quirky and reinvents him for the 21st century.
Mark Strong is as good as ever in the character role of Lord Blackwood - his taunting and teasing of Holmes clearly does a lot to show once again that Strong is an incredibly menacing and versatile actor onscreen.
Guy Ritchie's also brought that inevitable sense of Lock Stock cinematic style to ancient London - I had to admire the way he used his traditional slow mo shots to show how Holmes deals quickly with a problem in his head before physically dealing with it. In one fight scene, Holmes works out mentally how he will incapacitate his opponent through a series of slow mo cut shots - then seconds later, we see the physical action. It's a great way to demonstrate how Holmes' intellect and quick thinking works.
If there's to be a criticism of Sherlock Holmes (other than the film feeling like it's getting us ready for Sherlock 2) then it's that thanks to a slightly muddled plot, it never quite crackles and fizzes as well as it should - witty dialogue, quick repartie and some good (at times comedy) action pieces (including a very novel set piece on a dry docked boat) work well but the story drags it down slightly.

Holmes is clearly where the heart is, and Downey Jr's already said he will play the role again - so it's clear that the game is indeed afoot.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Alvin and The Chipmunks 2: Movie Review

Alvin and The Chipmunks 2: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Alvin, Simon, Theodore, Zachary Levi, Jason Lee, David Cross, Wendie Malick
Director: Betty Thomas
Alvin and the gang are back in this hideously titled follow up to Alvin and the Chipmunks.
This time, Alvin, Theodore and Simon are facing a life away from their pal Dave (Jason Lee - who's reduced to a mere cameo in this sequel) after an accident at a concert lands him in hospital.
Dave dispatches the helium voiced trio to live with his nephew Toby (Zachary Levi) - and as an added bonus, Dave decides it's time for them to go to school.
As if the peer pressure of fitting in at an American high school wasn't bad enough, the Chipmunks face a new threat - a female equivalent trio, the Chipettes, who are being masterminded by former manager Ian Hawke (David Cross) who's determined to get back into the big time and rain on Alvin's parade.
Can the Chipmunks beat their toughest ever threats and triumph?
So it's summer and the movies are all really about entertainment at the moment particularly with the school holidays now in full force.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel isn't bad entertainment - it just unfortunately fails to bridge the all ages gap. There'll be some younger movie goers who'll love the fart gags and the continuing pratfalls of the main cast - and that's perfectly fine.
But for the older portion of the audience (ie the mums and dads who are dragged along by their brood), it may be a little more of a struggle to get through. The human actors - David Cross and Zachary Levi (of TV2 fame as Chuck) acquit themselves well - Levi continues to get by on his lovable goofiness and slacker charm whereas Cross proves why he's such a comic genius by steering his Ian Hawke away from stereotyped bad guy into idiotic despot territory.
The Chipmunks themselves are all fine - at times, they sparked off memories of the Gremlins because of their continuing buffoonery.

However, there's some morals on display here too - Alvin has to learn some harsh lessons about never abandoning family as well as peer pressure and that pride comes before a fall; Brittany, Eleanor and Jeanette, the new Chipettes provide the requisite romantic spark but all in all Alvin and The Chipmunks - The Squeakquel is a fairly light piece of unsubstantial holiday entertainment.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Morris A Life With Bells On: Movie Review

Morris A Life With Bells On
Rating: 6/10
Cast: Chas Oldham, Derek Jacobi, Ian Hart, Dominique Pinon
Director: Lucy Akhurst
Morris dancing - it doesn't sound like your average choice for a film.
However, this spoof doco about the perils faced by the world of Morris could change that.
Set in rural England, a documentary team follows the life of Derecq Twist.
Actor Chas Oldham is Twist, a young morris dancer whose moves have set the world of the dance alight and whose thoughts of modernization are causing ripples within the governing body who oversee all things bells and sticks.
However, Twist is expelled from his local group and cast asunder from the UK world of Morris dancing by the powers that be.
So Twist heads abroad to follow his fame and worldwide reputation and its there that he starts to realize that while you can take the man out of morris dancing, you cant take the morris dancing out of the man.
This mockumentary is quite a gentle film - if you're blessed with a knowledge of rural parts of England and their quaint ways (thatched cottage roofs and slightly accented speaking) it may well appeal to you a little more than the average viewer.
There's a casual charm to the central cast; Twist's wrapped up in his morris ways but he has a disarming attitude which hooks you in from the start. Derek Jacobi as Quentin Neely, the head of the morris dancing organisation, is full of the pompous self importance and priggery you often find on jumped up committees worldwide. And as for the cameo by Pinon (Delicatessen) as the French sailor who washed up on the shores and discovered the joys of the Lord of the dance, well, quelle amusement there.
The humour is sly and wry there is a lot of casual throwaway comments which will catch you out if you're not paying attention. A lot of the dialogue is very similar in places to Spinal Tap at one point, one character says they are all about the 3 Ps - passion, practice and the desire to be best. It's that kind of subtle humour which reels you in without realizing.
There is actually plenty of serious Morris Dancing (aside from the American Backstreet boys style number) which shows the cast, while slyly mocking the subject, clearly has a lot of admiration for how it's done.

Morris A Life With Bells On is an antidote to the bigger Christmas blockbuster fare - it's got rural rustic charm all over it and will leave you with a wry grin through out.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Avatar: Movie Review

Avatar: Movie Review

Avatar
Rating: See below
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi
Director: James Cameron.
Wow.
It's been a long wait for the world James Cameron - along with WETA - has created for Avatar - and it's finally here.
Sam Worthington is Jake Sully, a paralysed former Marine who takes his dead brother's place on a mission to new world Pandora.
It's there that the Earthlings find themselves in conflict with the planet's indigenous people, the Na'vi (a 10 foot tall, blue skinned cat like spiritual race)
The Earthlings want to get their hands on a rich deposit of unobtainium, a rare mineral which could prevent the energy crisis back on earth.
However, that deposit is slap bang in the middle of the Na'vi's spiritual land - so Sully is sent in (via his own blue skinned Na'vi avatar) to try and see if there's a solution - be it military or negotiation...
So, what can you say about Avatar?
Blessed with superlatives already by critics worldwide (including Peter Jackson at the launch of the Lovely Bones ) and now given Golden Globe nods , it's fair to say Avatar is nothing short of a wondrous cinematic visual experience.
Weta has done such a thrilling job bringing James Cameron's vision to life - lush landscapes bristle with plant life made up of purples, oranges and deep greens. Every attention to detail in the world around the protagonists has been captured - in the early stages of the film, the cameras pan round technology of holographic scanners in a command centre as if it were the norm. The world is set up so quickly that pretty soon you adjust to life on another world.
The stop motion technology used to bring to the Na'vi and the wildlife around them to life also needs to be shouted about - it's game changing in terms of what films can do. And will do from now on. I can guarantee you've never really seen a film like this (other than in your mind's eye when you've been reading certain books) - the Na'vi are a fully formed breathing entity complete with layers of detail and glistening spots in the depths of the jungle.
I really don't have the words to explain how awe inducing it is up on the big screen - this is a film that will remain as an experience in 2D cinema, but will lose its majesty outside of the 3D world where it's brought to life. It's outstanding the level of detail which those behind the camera have gone to (see if you can spot the subtle difference between the Na'vi and the humans' Avatars)
However - yes, I'm sorry to be the bearer of some bad news - there are a few niggles with Avatar.
It's not the most original of stories - the plot (such as it is) is predictable and the usual adage of it being a big blockbuster light on plot does come to mind. All of the actors are good in their roles (although it's a little disheartening to see Zoe Saldana's Neytiri character go from strong warrior to female sidekick - and the marine in charge Colonel Quaritch - played with stereotypical Marine arrogance by Stephen Lang is so one dimensional). Sure, these are the usual complaints about plot, character development etc.
Yet, I'm more than happy to concede that (and even shout about the fact) Avatar is a game changing film and revolutionary - it's raised the bar so high in terms of effects that it'll be a struggle to see anything live up to its standards and the experience.
Granted, this first film is really about showing off the results of the technology - the challenge will come in the stories James Cameron will tell on the world in the sequels.
You really do have to see this on the big screen - and preferably in 3D to fully experience what Cameron - and Richard Taylor's Weta team - wanted you to live through.

Rating: 10/10 for effects and WOW factor - 5/10 for plot

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Amelia: Movie Review

Amelia: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston
Director: Mira Nair
Hilary Swank stars as the symbol of optimism and hope to many during the great depression in this latest attempt to bring Amelia Earhart to the screen.
(The first of course was the button nose Amy Adams in this year's Night At the Museum 2)
Earhart's story is obviously one which is well known given how her final flight turned out - although the mystery behind it has never been solved, there's been endless speculation about what exactly happened when she disappeared.
Book-ending this film is that flight - as the film opens, Earhart's in the plane with her navigator - but from there, we're cast back into the past as we see exactly how she became interested in the whole business of flying and cracking the gentlemen's club of the time. The story's told in flashbacks as we see Earhart taking her final flight, the 1937 round the world attempt from which she disappeared.
Earhart first meets with publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere) who asks her why exactly she wants to fly. He's after a female face to help sell a book - and interest - in aviation. But Putnam's reckoned without Earhart's moxy and her ambition to fly solo (something which was framed upon in the boy's club of the time).

Amelia is a disappointing biopic - despite Swank's uncanny resemblance to Earhart, there's little passion in the film - even an affair with Ewan McGregor's Gene Vidal is brushed over without any real depth and feeling. And Putnam's desire to keep Earhart and his jealousy over her friendship with Vidal is fumbled over as well. It's a case of missed opportunities with this biopic.
Earhart was clearly a conflicted, passionate character - she was forced to endorse products she didn't believe in because of the harsh reality that a lack of product placement would mean no cash to finance the flights. We see her give in with little fight and it's frustrating.
Director Mira Nair's used to great effect old aeroplanes and some of the old reel footage which exists of the flights at the time (the newsreels fade into excellent recreations of the scenes) and there's a wonderful sweeping score.
But set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, I never really got a sense of how Amelia Earhart was the modern hero to those who suffered so badly in the 30s - and I certainly never felt that the filmmakers got that message across well enough.

There's a simplicity of story telling within Amelia - but unfortunately it's a little too broad brush and treats the subject a little too lightly. It's very tempting to say the biopic rarely takes off (sorry) but in all honesty, Amelia just doesn't gel together; the story's a little flat and it's hard to emotionally engage with Amelia herself and sympathise with her plight as she tried desperately to pioneer her way in the skies.

Under The Mountain: Movie Review

Under The Mountain: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Sam Neill, Oliver Driver, Tom Cameron, Sophie McBride
Director: Jonathan King
How do you adapt a classic?
Particularly one as inherently Kiwi and steeped in our culture as hokey pokey ice cream or The Topp Twins?
That's the dilemma facing the director Jonathan King in this new adaptation of Maurice Gee's much loved book Under The Mountain, first published back in 1979.
In this version (a little removed from the iconic eighties television series) teen twins Theo and Rachel (Tom Cameron and Sophie McBride) are growing apart after the death of their mother.
The psychic bond shared by the pair is under strain as Theo refuses to face the reality of the situation - however, the pair stay with relatives in Auckland and discover their future lies in helping Mr Jones (Sam Neill) defeat the Wilberforces before they unleash the power beneath the volcanoes and destroy the world..
Personally I think it's hard to really appreciate Under The Mountain out of context of New Zealand - the whole production is clearly a NZ venture; from the sweeping panoramic shots of Auckland and the NZ countryside to a very funny aside about the reality of calling in the New Zealand Army, Under The Mountain is steeped in Kiwiana.
Maurice Gee's book is considered a classic by many - and it's fair to say there's a weight of expectation on this adaptation.
What director Jonathan King's managed to create is an incredibly creepy and, in places, downright scary film - the oozing menace from Oliver Driver's head Wilberforce is likely to give kids nightmares. He is a boogeyman for the 21st century and thanks to WETA workshop's impressive prosthetic work and Driver's staccato vocals, there'll be plenty who'll want to sleep with the lights on for a while to come.
The effects are equally as impressive - whereas the directors could easily have used CGI to create everything, they've opted for a mix of live action and CGI which seamlessly blend in.
Scenery plays a vitally important part in this film - Rangitoto towers in the background, forever lurking and casting a shadow over what transpires in the film - beautiful panoramic shots highlight the juxtaposition of the alien decay of the Wilberforce place on Lake Pupuke in comparison to the life and vitality of Auckland's finest.
For first time actors, Tom Cameron and Sophie McBride acquit themselves not too badly; and Leon Wadham's cousin Ricky, who initially grates as a comedy relief, finds something meatier is required of him when the Wilberforce threat becomes real - Sam Neill as ever brings gravitas and a degree of humanity to his role as Mr Jones.
If there's to be a criticism of Under The Mountain (and unfortunately there has to be), it comes after the 60 minutes mark - after building an incredible atmosphere of menace and threat, it all becomes a little unstuck and the ending is somewhat rushed and a little muddy. A moment of sacrifice from a major character unfortunately doesn't ring as emotionally true as it should and it clouds the film's denouement.

Overall, Under The Mountain deserves to do well in New Zealand as it's imbued with an inherent love of the source material here - for the young kids, there's a brand new generation of Wilberforces to give them the heebie jeebies - and for those who fondly remember the iconic TVNZ series, there's plenty of moments to empathise with the kids as their teen fears are realized.

The Time Traveller's Wife: Movie Review

The Time Traveller's Wife: Movie Review

Rating: 6/10
Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston
Director: Robert Schwentke
Based on the best selling book by Audrey Niffenegger about a time travelling librarian (yeah, who knew?), the film version of The Time Traveller's Wife finally materialises in cinemas.
Bana stars as old and young versions of Henry deTamble, who, thanks to a genetic anomaly, can travel back and forth through time. Without warning, he simply disappears, leaving behind a pile of clothes and questions - and shows up somewhere else stark naked.
However, one day at a library, he meets Rachel McAdams' Claire Abshire, who tells him that they've met before - only Henry's never met her. Yet.
So they start a relationship and Henry begins to realise that he's met the young Claire - and as their life together grows, Claire begins to suffer the strain of not knowing how long Henry's around for her and what they can do together.
Can their love survive? And what hurdles will they face in their future - will Henry's genetic problem be passed onto their children?
The Time Traveller's Wife may have you leaving the cinema doing one of two things - either scratching your head over the intricacies of jumping around in your own timeline (the bane of sci-fi - and Sam Beckett - for years) or bawling your eyes out.
It's a romantic fantasy with a narrative that jumps back and forth (although not as strongly as the book did) - director Robert Schwentke has made the narrative as linear as he could.
Bana and McAdams bring considerable charm to their respective roles - and the effects of Bana melting away as Henry are pretty cool (like water running through a painting) - but The Time Traveller's Wife has a kind of mournful spirit throughout.
Henry's condition is never seen as anything more than a curse for him - he can't save his mother from a fatal car accident and he never seems entirely happy to just disappear. Even when flashes of his death appear, it's a nice touch to see that Bana's character is scared because he finally has something he wants to stick around for and that's now out of his control.

The Time Traveller's Wife won't set the world alight - despite some of the corny lines, there's a quiet air of sadness in it which induces a major case of the weepies at the end.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Where The Wild Things Are: Movie Review

Where The Wild Things Are: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Max Records, James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Catherine Keener, Lauren Ambrose, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker
Director: Spike Jonze
Max is your typical kid - rambunctious, lacking in boundaries and discipline and blessed with a fiercely imaginative mind.
He spends his time building igloos in the snow and wandering around in a wolf costume.
One day after a fight and heated argument with his mum, he runs off, gets in a boat and heads to an island. That island is Where The Wild Things live - and under the cover of darkness, he meets Carol and the rest of the gang - a group of 10 foot tall hairy creatures wreaking havoc for no reason.
Max, feeling dejected and rejected from his home life, decides to stay with the Wild Things after he's made King of their clan - however, he soon discovers that ruling is not as easy as he thought.
Spike Jonze's version of Where The Wild Things Are is of course based on the 1963 book by Maurice Sendak and of course comes with the weighty expectation of fans worldwide.
However, it's no disappointment.
Granted, there's not much story to build on but what Jonze has visually created is stunning in places - and his decision to turn the Wild Things into toweringly tall animatronic full suits (with creatures made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop) is nothing short of cinematic genius.
Shot with a handheld camera, the film is full of beautiful visuals - as well as nightmarish visions and will amaze you from the very moment the Wild Things appear on the screen. They look like cuddly puppets in places - but Carol's temperamental behaviour and tantrums which rock Max's world are brilliantly brought to life by the vocal work of James Gandolfini of Sopranos fame. In fact, it's possible to say Gandolfini's Carol is a creature version of his Tony Soprano - charming and charismatic but with the capability of turning at just the bat of an eyelid.
Let's be clear though - this is not really a kid's film. The themes of anger, loneliness and melancholy coupled with some dark, sinister visuals are the stuff of nightmares. The younger end of the audience may find it hard to watch - but that said, there's wonderment aplenty in the vision Jonze has had.
He's clearly stayed true to his idea of how the book should be created; he's fleshed out the plot and brought the creatures to life. There's a raucous soundtrack to complement this ragtag bag of misfit creatures whose occasionally sadsack ways will amuse and upset in equal measures.

Where The Wild Things will appeal to the imaginative - and Spike Jonze's creativity deserves to be saluted. As the year heads to a close, it's proof the best is still coming

The Informant!: Movie Review

The Informant!: Movie Review

Rating: 7/10
Cast: Matt Damon, Melanie Lynskey, Scott Bakula, Joel McHale
Director: Steven Soderbergh
The Informant! is the tale of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) a rising executive at the American agricultural firm during the 1990s.
Despite doing well within the company, Whitacre ends up blowing the whistle to an FBI agent (Scott Bakula) about apparent price fixing within the market instigated by the very people he works with.
However, as the FBI dig deeper into what's going on, Whitacre reveals more about the company's involvement with lysine, an additive used in the commercial livestock industry.
And the closer the FBI get to nabbing those responsible, the more bizarre turns the investigation takes thanks to the increasingly erratic behaviour of Whitacre himself.
The Informant! is a curious new film from Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh.
Based on an apparently true story, there's a feeling of growing incredulity the longer the film goes on. Matt Damon's Whitacre is clearly a conflicted and bipolar character, whose tormented inner monologue at key moments see him ruminate on the minutiae of life - one side comment sees him wondering how polar bears learnt to cover their black noses when hunting given they had no concept of black and white.
It's a dark comedy that Soderbergh's created in places - but with tremendously solid performances from the likes of Damon and Taranaki's very own Melanie Lynskey (who plays Whitacre's long suffering wife), you're never quite 100% sure where to laugh - or even if you should.
As the film nears its conclusion, there's more than just a little element of screwball appearing in it as Whitacre's world begins to unravel.

Blessed with a brilliant bossanova 70s style soundtrack, The Informant! is an odd treat with unexpected and unbelievable moments. Granted there will be those who feel the film is trying a little too hard to be quirky and aiming for an insane zaniness; however, at the film's conclusion, you'll be hard pressed to have anything but an unusual admiration for Whitacre and how he led the entire FBI on a wild dance.

The Cake Eaters: Movie Review

The Cake Eaters: Movie Review

Rating 5/10
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Aaron Stanford, Bruce Dern, Jayce Bartok
Director: Mary Stuart Masterson
Kristen Stewart (sort of) sheds her Bella from Twilight image in this bittersweet story of love.
Set in small town America, Stewart plays Georgia, a teen with Freidreich's Ataxia, a progressive degenerative disease of the nervous system.
Georgia suffers with a slurred speech and a stuttering walk - but one day, while at a car boot sale, she meets Beagle (Aaron Stanford), the son of a local butcher. Beagle's family has been torn apart by their mother's death and his long errant brother has also just returned to town - to a wall of bitterness and anger at his absence during the family loss.
And that's really it for plot in this indie film, the directorial debut of actress Mary Stuart Masterson.
This quiet low key, character driven indie would probably have been consigned to TV movie status (and has sat on a shelf since 2007) were it not for Kristen Stewart and the Twilight mania. That said, while she does play a variation of the Bella character, Stewart shows what a talented actress she actually is.
She plays Georgia with a headstrong desire to live a life while she can - and she and Beagle pursue an uneasy relationship as those around them come to terms with life, love and loss.

There's nothing seriously wrong with The Cake Eaters - granted, it's a little predictable and clichéd and you can probably see what's coming a mile off. It's a Sunday afternoon film - but thanks to Stewart's superior and genuine performance, it is saved from the mire - given Stewart made this film before the ascendance of Bella, it shows she really does have the promise to make it long after the vampire franchise has been staked.

Zombieland: Movie Review

Zombieland: Movie Review

Rating: 8/10
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard
Director: Ruben Fleischer
From the opening slow mo titles which see zombies taking people out in very drawn out fashion to the final showdown at the end, Zombieland is one hell of a lot of fun.
Basically, thanks to a diseased burger, the entire US of A has been overrun with zombies, leaving just a few survivors determined to avoid being bitten.
The hero is Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), a nerdy student who encounters Woody Harrelson's red neck Tallahassee one day as he tries to find out if his family's survived the apocalypse.
(That's one of the great things about Zombieland - none of the characters have real names; they've simply given their locations as their monkers)
So teaming up, the duo head across America - however, on the way they encounter Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) who manage to con them out of their car, guns and belongings. It appears the end of the world has still brought out the worst in some people&as well as that whole zombie flesh eating issue.
Tallahassee is determined to wreak revenge - but as the road trip progresses, both parties grow closer together - will their nuclear family be ruined by revenge and zombies?
Zombieland is not your average undead film flick - for one thing, it's a terrifically fun ride, chock full of unexpected madness and laugh out loud moments.
Eisenbeg and Harrelson's nerdy Columbus and redneck Tallahassee double act sizzles with a sparkling energy - Tallahassee's not at all impressed with his new buddy, as it's throwing him off his quest to find the last ever Twinkie on earth.
Columbus on the other hand has a whole set of rules he has which help him survive the end of the world - and as he espouses these at the start of the film, they seem to have helped him get through. But having spent so much time as a loner, he soon realizes those ways are going to have to change.
Director Fleischer gives the film some visual flair and a vibrancy which sees it never outstay its 90 minute duration.
But there's one main reason to see Zombieland - and unfortunately, I'm determined not to spoil it for you - because the pure unadulterated pleasure I felt as I witnessed what was the best plot point I've seen for years left me beaming for ages after the end.
And trust me, it'd be a shame to spoil that for you - it's sheer genius and very brilliant.



Zombieland is a reminder of how fun and disposable great cinema should be - it's trashy, it's pulpy and yet underneath all the undead flesh, there's a beating heart which will give you the widest grin you've had for a long time, long after you've left.

The Invention of Lying: Movie Review

The Invention of Lying: Movie Review

Rating: 5/10
Cast: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill
Director: Ricky Gervais.
Oh, Ricky.
The Invention Of Lying is the latest outing from the man who'll be forever tagged as David Brent.
Set in an alternate reality where no-one's ever heard of lying and everyone tells the truth (no matter how awkward and how blunt it can be) Gervais stars as Mark Bellison, a screenwriter whose career, lovelife and life in general is heading down the pan.
One day, for no reason whatsoever, after being fired and facing eviction, Bellison ends up telling a lie - and realizing he's got the power to change mankind forever, he tries to lie his way through life and see how far he can get.
However, when his mum lies dying in hospital from a heart attack, Bellison ends up stretching the truth a little - and is overheard - and ends up being proclaimed as a new messiah for the world.
The problem is Bellison soon realizes that everyone's looking to him for answers - and he barely has enough for himself.
What do you say about the Ricky Gervais written, produced and directed by effort? Well, to start off with it's a fantastic concept - which somehow becomes mired in a quasi-religious satire mixed with a large dollop of romantic comedy.
Gervais is, to be blunt, playing once again another version of the character he's been peddling for years - don't get me wrong, I like that character - the slightly smug insufferable person who's beaten down and mocked by others.
But the problem is that the script just isn't strong enough to make its way to the end - and despite the crowd pleasing celebrity cameos, there's not much to stop this film from concluding in its own inevitable way.
It's a real shame as the central concept for the Invention of Lying is quite a clever one - and there's some real emotion on show when the mother passes away. The idea that you have to lie in someway to bring some kind of comfort to people is a nice twist (ok, white lies are nothing new) and works well as it just pushes Bellison further into more trouble.

Overall, The Invention of Lying could have benefited from a slightly tighter script and more of an idea of what exactly it wanted to be - it's a shame as it had all the markings of a great film. Instead it's a mess and a crushing disappointment.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Something, Something, Something, Dark Side: DVD Review

Something,  Something, Something, Dark Side: DVD Review

Family Guy: Something, Something, Something Dark Side
Released by Roadshow Home Entertainment
Rating: M

Family Guy continues to take on the Star Wars phenomenon with the blessing of George Lucas.
And with a foul mouth and an occasional eye in the toilet.
Something, Something Dark side is the sequel to the popular Blue Harvest which was a Family Guy style retelling of Star Wars.
So it's no surprise that Something, Something Dark Side is Seth MacFarlane's take on The Empire Strikes Back, one of the most loved of the original trilogy.
The story is a blow by blow retelling of the original with the Family Guy characters thrown in - Chris is Luke, Peter is Han solo and his wife Lois is Leia.
As ever with Family Guy, it's an all or nothing kind of a show - if you're a teen, you'll love it - and its occasionally foul mouth (one of the Empire's greatest lines is ruined by the gang) - and it does provide a few good laughs here and there. Although to be honest, not quite as many as Blue Harvest did.
That said, there are some amusing moments - some funny antics involving the AT-AT fighters, a bizarre Tom Selleck moment, and an unexpected American Idol parody. The final sequence involving Seth Green is great too - but to reveal too much would ruin the in joke.
When the humour's a bit more subtle, it tends to work a little better than the in your face moments - a running gag about how whiny Leia is makes you wonder why you didn't notice this in the original film.
There are some good solid extras - a fact up rerun of the 54 minute episode is done in the style of Pop Up video and has some humorous and unexpectedly interesting moments.
All in all, Something, Something Dark Side isn't as strong as the previous release; there aren't as many gags per minute ratio as compared to previous episode Blue Harvest- but it provides some mirth and merriment for the most ardent of Star Wars fans as well as fans of the original Family Guy show - and it's not long now until they parody Return of The Jedi&.

Extras: Audio Commentaries; Family Guy Fact-Ups; The Dark Side of Poster Art; Animatic Scene-To-Scene; With commentary by Director, Dominic Polcino; Something, Something, Something Dark Side Table Read; Episode VI: Feeling About This (aka Jedi) Table Read; Transfer Digital Copy feature title

Rating: 6/10